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Wake-Up Call

Who were those guys wearing blue shirts on the field in Miami last night?

(And does anyone else think it's really odd for them to be playing at "Dolphins Stadium?"

They were drawing walks (three of them). Taking extra bases (five doubles and a homer). And even when the bullpen decided to make it close, turning an 8-3 blowout into an 8-6 lead, the Cubs -- yes, the Cubs -- waited out an hour's rain delay (I didn't -- I looked at the Weather Channel and figured the game was over and went to sleep so I could get up for work this morning), added a run, and beat the Marlins 9-6, ending their season-long 8-game losing streak, and righting the ship, at least temporarily.

How unusual was this game?

  • It was the worst start of the year for 13-game winner Dontrelle Willis, whose ERA went up half a run, from 1.89 to 2.39.
  • Jerry Hairston had another good day in the leadoff spot, going 2-for-5 with a run scored and an RBI.
  • The Cubs scored in the first inning. The last time the Cubs scored a run in the first inning before last night was on June 30, and they lost that game. The last time the Cubs scored in the first inning and won the game was on on June 25 against the White Sox, almost two weeks ago.
  • Matt Murton made a splashy major league debut, with a single, double, walk, and sacrifice fly, and also scored his first major league run. More than that, he looks like he belongs. He didn't seem out of place at all, and presuming he continues to play (which he should at least for this series, as the Marlins are throwing all lefthanders), I would think he won't be batting eighth for very long.
  • Despite struggling and throwing a ridiculous 122 pitches in seven innings, Carlos Zambrano threw well enough to register his sixth win.
  • And, Ryan Dempster finished up for his 13th save. Since Dempster was anointed closer on May 7, his numbers are: 22 G, 24.2 IP, 17 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 8 BB, 22 SO, 1.82 ERA, 13 SV, 1 BS. Those numbers compare favorably with just about any closer in the majors, and the thing most of us worried about regarding Dempster -- his tendency to give up too many walks -- has not been a problem at all, and the Cubs won the game in which he blew the save on May 9.
It really did appear to be a completely different team on the field last night than the bored, dispirited bunch who got swept out of Atlanta. I really do think that the demotions of Jason Dubois, and particularly Corey Patterson, was a wake-up call to the entire ballclub. As I wrote yesterday, it is extremely rare for a major league veteran with as much experience (over 2000 ML AB) as Patterson, to be demoted to the minor leagues. That had to show the entire ballclub how serious Jim Hendry is about shaking things up. And, it helped that Murton contributed immediately.

Weather permitting, and at this time it appears it won't, Derrek Lee will be back in the lineup tonight. Some of you might be more comfortable seeing him sit out till after the All-Star break, but this shoulder problem is a minor one -- he was apparently playing with it for a couple of weeks and it wasn't causing him any trouble, and three days' rest ought to be enough. The article linked above says that Lee took some swings in the batting cages last night and pronounced himself ready to go.

One win isn't going to turn this season around. But you can only win one game at a time, and a winning streak has to start somewhere. I was strongly encouraged by not only the win, but the way the Cubs won.

I've seen too many seasons where the Cubs didn't have the talent to win, and they didn't. I've also seen many seasons where they didn't have the talent to win, ran out to a huge lead (see the 1977 season in particular) around this time of year, only to blow it.

This is going to sound like bleating platitudes, but it's true: baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. If the Cubs can win the next two games, that gives momentum going into the second half, where the schedule is much more favorable (well, except maybe for the 14 games against the Cardinals -- but if you're going to be a playoff team, you're going to have to beat the Cardinals at some point anyway, right?), and I am still certain that Jim Hendry will be a buyer, rather than a seller, despite what Bruce Miles wrote yesterday in the Daily Herald.

For those of you who have been so negative, take a deep breath and wait a bit longer, won't you? There are plenty of teams this season who have streaked from very poor records to contention:

  • Oakland, who was 17-32 on May 29, has gone 25-9 since then and stands only 5.5 games behind Minnesota for the AL wild card. The A's are a flawed team, but that hasn't stopped them from winning.
  • The Yankees have been unbelievably streaky this year -- starting 11-19, then going 16-2, then going 3-11, then winning six in a row (that included the sweep of the Cubs), then 3-7, and currently are on another six-game winning streak. The Yankees are an old team that at times looks absolutely terrible -- example, losing three of four at home to Tampa Bay right after sweeping the Cubs.
  • Then there's a team that started 12-10, followed that by going 1-8, then 17-7, 6-11, four straight wins, and then 1-8 again.

That would be the Cubs. Time for another winning streak. Keep the faith.

UPDATE [2005-7-9 10:18:55 by Al]: On my SportsBLOGS colleague John Sickels' excellent Minor League Ball site, there is a diary entry with a great deal of discussion of the Patterson/Murton move. Feel free to dive in!